It was one of the first major wars to be extensively captured on camera, and while most of us can picture iconic images from World War Two, there exist thousands upon thousands of lesser-known shots – some of which are downright bizarre. So, showcasing the likes of a sword-wielding Brit and an inflatable tank, here are 20 of the strangest photographs taken during the conflict.
One way to mock the Canadian Army’s lack of military gear – especially its dearth of uniforms – was to pose in little more than a sporran before heading off for war. So that’s exactly what these Calgary Highlanders did beside the Bow River. Of course, both of them managed to belie their lack of attire by looking pretty intimidating – and those bayonets certainly help.
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle’s party trick was to ask his bayonet-wielding troops to surround him before he would disarm them all, all while himself being unarmed. Thus, the American hand-to-hand fighting virtuoso is pictured here doing his thing – very calmly, it has to be said – in 1943.
There was nothing friendly about the gas mask. Sure, it could save your life in the event of a chemical weapons attack, but it looked terrifying. Step forward, then, the Mickey Mouse gas mask, which was issued by the U.S. government in 1942 after Pearl Harbor. While it was supposed to look less scary, though, it still somehow managed to seem super creepy.
While not much got past Hitler, amazingly, this inflatable tank – and many others like it – did. They were used by the Allies’ so-called Ghost Army in northern France and Germany after D-Day. And because they were inflated not far from Nazi frontlines, the Germans were given the impression that the Allies’ military might was far more pumped up than it actually was.
This is as confused a military vehicle as you’re likely to see. It’s called the Hafner Rotabuggy, and it first took flight in 1943 after being developed by the British. A cross between a rotor kite and a jeep, the off-road vehicle was designed to be safely dropped from aircraft, albeit from a grand height of around eight feet.
Dogs can be trained to do anything, it seems – even run at enemy tanks with explosives strapped to their bodies. Consequently, such fearless canines – normally Alsatians – were deployed by the Soviet Army against the Germans from 1941. Yet because they were often shot at, or were simply scared of the huge advancing tanks, the pooches were almost completely ineffective.
Whatever the Allies could do, the Germans could do… much, much worse. Certainly, the Nazis’ take on the dummy tank, the Panzerattrape, wasn’t quite as convincing as the Ghost Army’s creations. This photo depicts a frankly laughable case in point. Does it even move? And to think that the Germans are known for their world-class engineering…
While the Nazis did their level best to disrupt Soviet naval convoys and supply routes with Operation Wunderland II, they found a new enemy… With the September 1943 mission taking place in the Arctic’s freezing Kara Sea, the Germans also had to contend with polar bears – which they were apparently only too happy to kill.
Lieutenant Colonel John Churchill, better known as “Mad Jack,” was famous for taking 42 German soldiers hostage while armed with his sword during a 1941 raid on an enemy garrison in occupied Norway. He’s pictured here, trusty sword in hand, at the head of a training regime off the coast of Inveraray, Scotland.
From real polar bears falling victim to the Nazis to fake ones. Maybe these Wehrmacht officers were joking around before being posted to the Eastern Front, blissfully unaware of the hell that awaited them. Whatever the reason, Germans posing with polar bears – real or otherwise – seems to have been a “thing” in the 1940s.
While physical fitness and a willingness to conform were prized, there were seemingly other attributes that the female wing of the Hitler Youth – known as the League of German Girls – valued. Well, whatever it takes to get ahead. These girls may have been members of the Faith and Beauty Society, which welcomed young women aged 17 to 21.
While these British Royal Engineers, at work somewhere in Italy, might look like they’re playing “guess what’s in the box,” they’re actually learning how to identify mines under the cover of darkness. This was really important. Why? Because, should they have made a wrong move during a night-time advance, they would have been blown to smithereens.
Since you don’t get much vitamin D when you work inside a submarine, these submariners from Britain’s Royal Navy were given ultraviolet lamp treatment before their missions. Absorbing some rays, it was thought, provided a timely health boost before spending days or sometimes weeks below the waves.
June 6, 1944, was the date on which the Allies invaded Nazi-occupied Normandy. And while the success of D-Day changed the course of the war, it nevertheless resulted in around 14,000 to 19,000 casualties. These two British soldiers, whose faces were bandaged after they’d sustained severe burns, were among those to be seriously injured. Yet, despite their suffering, they seem determined to have had a celebratory smoke.
The Blitz, which began in September 1940, saw London bombed by the Nazis for 57 days and nights in a row. In addition to the bombardment destroying the British capital’s buildings, the Germans hoped that it would damage Londoners’ morale. If this milkman’s upbeat expression is anything to go by, however, the Luftwaffe’s latter objective failed.
Pilots can’t be dealing with hair flapping in front of their eyes, so in between raids they often had their locks cut. Obviously, this Supermarine Spitfire pilot was one such RAF member to take advantage of the resident barber’s services at a base in Fairlop, Essex. He’s pictured here in 1942, which is around the time that Britain’s air force began targeting key German industrial targets.
If you’re a German soldier with a bit of time to kill at the start of the war and you want to adopt a dog, which breed do you choose? A German Shepherd, naturally. It’s well known, of course, that Hitler was a fan of canines – and if this photo is anything to go by, it seems that his enthusiasm filtered down to his foot soldiers.
Contrary to appearances, this isn’t some kind of kinky outfit. Rather, it’s some super high-tech protective wear complete with a gas mask. It was worn by American sailors to ensure they were protected against chemical weapons, with this one being modeled by a naval officer in Corpus Christi, Texas.
These American pilots, from 8th Bomber Command, look like they could be extras from Star Wars. In fact, though, these guys were responsible for attacking German positions from up high, which meant that they needed to be equipped with high-altitude attire, flight goggles and oxygen masks.
Never go to war without your pet monkey, said no soldier ever. However, perhaps this Chinese soldier – who was photographed somewhere in Burma, now Myanmar, in the 1940s – did just that. What’s more, sporting its best game face, the ape actually looks a little more up for it than the smiling soldier.